Seagate's recent Kinetic Open Storage platform unveiling is making hard drive based technology interesting again.  The Kinetic platform essentially turns hard drives into individual key value stores, and allows applications and hosts to directly access Kinetic drives over TCP/IP networks.  Processing power within the drives is used to run the key value store, and the Kinetic technology also facilitates policy based drive-to-drive data migration.  If this storage architecture is commercially successful it will be extraordinarly disruptive since the direct connectivity from drives to applications will eliminate storage controllers, file systems, SANs and even RAID from the storage data path.  Developer kits for Kinetic are available today, though Seagate will not be making the drives generally available until 2014.  I'll be publishing a more in-depth report for Forrester clients on our site in the future, but for now there are a number of key points to be aware of as this technology ramps up:

Kinetic simplifes the storage stack.  Object storage and distributed applications which use key value stores are actually held back by the conventional file system, RAID and controller architectures that are found in enteprise storage systems.  In addition to storing keys and their associated data values, Kinetic manages drive-to-drive data migration to offload data mirroring and data layout chores from applications, and eliminate the need for dedicated storage controllers.  Applications using Kinect will send and request data over TCP/IP networks using Seagate's open source object API, and will allow Kinetic drives to do the heavy storage lifting (reading, writing, deleting and mirroring objects) in the background.

Cloud giants are driving Kinetic forward.  Industry leaders such as Yahoo, Rackspace & a number of additional cloud players (who have not been publically revealed) are currently evaluating the technology and could use it as the storage repository for large scale, data-centric applications and cloud storage services.  The potential cost savings that comes from eliminating storage controllers or commodity servers running the provider's proprietary storage stack would appeal to players looking to reduce power and rackspace consumption.  SwiftStack and Basho were the first two object storage players to announce their support for the Kinetic architecture, though we expect to see additional vendors in the archive and object storage space using Kinetic in the future. 

Focusing on the enterprise infrastructure, there are a few areas to consider and monitor as the Kinetic technology matures and evolves:

Enterprise storage impact.  The key value stores in Kinetic hard drives are a good fit for object storage, distributed file systems (Hadoop Distributed File System, Lustre, GlusterFS) and distributed database (Cassandra) use cases, but will not be a complete replacement for existing enterprise NAS and SAN infrastructures.  Structured data and transaction heavy workloads, which benefit from caching and other storage capabilities are not a good match for Kinetic and will continue to utilize SAN and NAS storage.

Network impact.  Unlike conventional hard drives which connect to systems using SAS, SATA or Fibre Channel interfaces, Kinetic drives will each have two Gigabit Ethernet ports to connect to TCP/IP networks.  In Q4 FY2013 Seagate shipped over 8 million enterprise drives in a single quarter.  If Kinetic becomes a significant portion of Seagate's drive mix, there could eventually be millions of drives – each requiring IP addresses and network connectivity – entering enterprise and service provider environments.  We were a little surprised that there weren't more network switching and management partners announced with Kinect's unveiling. 

Security impact.  Kinetic drives will be protected with data at rest encryption.  Seagate also claims Kinetic will be more secure that conventional storage systems since its interface library will include modules for authentication, authorization and transport layer security.  Full end-to-end integrity checking is also available and will be a key feature for warding off silient data corruption in petabyte and exabyte scale environments. 

Maintenance impact.  Kinetic is moving data placement and data management (mirroring of objects) tasks to the hard drive level.  Within infrastructures, hard drives are components with relatively high failure rates.  Drive firmware upgrades and large scale replacements of drives (to update capacity and expire old units) could become major maintenance challenges for enterprises.  

Business technology resiliency impact.  Early adopters will have to think long and hard about how they should protect their data, factoring in how many copies of objects they should keep and where those objects are stored.  While replication within a data center should be relatively straight forward, cross data center replication and data distribution have not been fleshed out in the documentation I have seen so far.